Aujourd’hui, l’ordinateur est mort – as a novel jointly written by Albert Camus and Isaac Asimov might have begun. I sit and stare, paying my last respects to the lifeless screen before me in the gwailo’s lair on the top floor of S-Meg Tower in the bustling heart of Asia’s international business hub. It is hardly surprising. So tired had my trusty old office PC become that its creaky Windows 2000 would take over five minutes to wake up in the morning, and then a bit longer to digest the various programs as they started up. During the day it would wheeze away, its tiny memory full to the brim, writing web pages, documents and other things onto the hard drive and reading them off again, trying desperately to keep up with even my modest multitasking work style. And then, at the day’s end it would take what seemed like an eternity to shut down, so I had taken to yanking the power supply just to get it over with. Maybe that’s what killed it.
I leap to my feet and stride confidently out into Private Office, mentally preparing myself to order various dull-witted and slow-moving deltas and epsilons to do things. I start with Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary.
“My computer has broken down, for good this time. I need a new one. Now. Can we [note the clever psychology here: ‘we’] get Ricky from IT to, um, do something?”
She looks at me sullenly, grasping a small furry Hello Kitty hot water bottle to her cramp-racked abdomen – though frankly there is no right time of the month to ask her for favours.
More psychology: “You can tell him that I have important work to do for the Big Boss, and if I can’t do it, I will tell the Big Boss that it is all Ricky’s fault.”
The opportunity to cause someone mental anguish fills Ms Fang with warmth and enthusiasm. Neither of us needs to add that the next anyone would hear of lank-haired, terminal acne victim Ricky under this scenario would be when the police broke the window of his apartment to let the charcoal-scented carbon monoxide out.
And so, the good news: Ricky is installing a brand new PC, with 4GB of memory and a stupendous 764GB hard drive within minutes. (Windows 7. Surprisingly good, though I suppose Microsoft stole all the ideas from Apple.)
All my several dozen gigabytes of obscure music downloads, vast collection of photos and illustrations harmlessly copied and pasted from cyberworld, recipes, the ‘art’, the book and nearly 10 years’ worth of diary are painstakingly backed up on a variety of external drives, memory sticks, my home PC and on-line, so no worries there. However, by some tragic oversight, years of work-related material for the Chairman of S-Meg Holdings are on the dead PC’s hard drive and nowhere else.
I catch Ricky just as he is about to drag the remains of my PC down to his hovel on the 10th floor. As I explain how vital it is for him to retrieve the documents, he breaks into a sweat. The fluorescent lighting of the foyer near the elevators reflects off his oily skin with growing intensity. “I don’t think it is possible,” he mumbles. “I… I checked.” Unable to bring myself to touch him, I order him onto his knees to pull the device from the carcass and give it to me, then to go downstairs and strangle himself to death.
The obvious thing to do would be to pass it to Ms Fang and ask her to get a proper IT person from the big world out there to crack the hard drive. If a Navy SEAL had grabbed the thing from the flames of Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, you can bet every bit of data would be unveiled. But I have already used up my daily quota of cooperation. And besides, the Big Boss’s scowling PA is in even less of a mood to help than usual, having spied the vast, shiny new monitor sitting on my desk and erupted in a silent, seething pout of envy.
In the pantry, I have a quiet word with her very capable and aptly named assistant Angel. Oh, how everyone – from the Big Boss down to the three Stanleys in the mailroom – looks forward to Ms Fang’s annual two weeks’ vacation, when Angel takes charge and everything works smoothly and sweetly before another 50 weeks’ of spite and incompetence begin.
“Top urgent ah?” she says, taking the chunk of ‘electric brain’ and sprinting to her desk to flick through a Rolodex.
Thus it is that within barely an hour, a techie from outside the company is in our conference room, surrounded by the inevitable photos of the Big Boss meeting President Hu Jintao, successfully decanting the important bits out of the deceased machine. As I suspected was possible. His skin, I note, appears flawless.
The first email to arrive on my sparkling new PC is from none other than wild American friend Odell, informing me of a curious development at our second home, the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee. The outlet, he excitedly writes, is starting a weekly Ladies’ Night, in which people who do not have penises will be entitled to 50% off ‘liqueur coffee or other alcoholic drinks every Wednesday starting from 6pm’.
Revolting visions of the creepy girl who reads the Bible and mentally undresses me losing self-control and succumbing to her natural urges pass before me.
I can only conclude that this is an act of desperation by one of the few popular retailers among all the luxury-brand shops in the complex. Presumably, landlords Sun Hung Kai are insisting on a rent hike. If so, what next? Maybe the McDonalds around the corner will start renting out a vomitorium for adults-only bunga-bunga parties. Perhaps the Pret-a-Manger sandwich place will replace the Nepalese and Filipino waitresses with topless hostesses who can be bought out by the hour. The property tycoons’ lust for profit drives the common people to new depths of depravity.